Movie Review: “John Wick” – Keanu Is Back; enjoy!

Written by Jesse Gelinas October 26, 2014

John Wick's dog

The face that launched a thousand bullets.

Say what you will about Keanu Reeves. He has no range, his voice gets annoying, he comes off more than a bit dim in some earlier interviews. That said, he’s proven himself an intensely generous man, a genuinely humble celebrity, and all around cool guy. He’s a man who seems to take to heart his classic mantra: “Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!” So, when he hit a bit of a post-Matrix slump (wih the exception of “A Scanner Darkly”), I was kind of disappointed. It’s safe to say I’m more than a bit excited to see him back in good form, in the action-revenge piece, “John Wick.” It’s a classic story of a dangerous man driven over the edge by an act of senseless violence, and it may  just be the comeback Keanu needs.

John Wick was once the most feared assassin in the business. He carried out countless “impossible tasks” for the Russian mob, before leaving the life to be with his wife. Sadly, after a few short years of happiness, Wick’s wife dies of cancer, leaving him to grieve with the help of an adorable puppy for him to love in her stead. Literally two days later, a seemingly random robbery leaves Wick wounded and his new companion dead. And suddenly, John Wick has a reason to dip back into the life. No one is safe once he begins his rampage, but the audience is treated to not only impressive action, but a pleasantly surprising dose of world-building that almost outshines the film’s generic revenge plot.

“He’s not the boogeyman. He’s the one you send to kill the boogeyman.”

“John Wick” is actually quite brilliant in its simplicity. This is a straight up revenge story in its purest form. Man leaves life. Life finds man. Man goes nuts. They set him off, and we watch him go, and it is thoroughly entertaining throughout. The film isn’t bogged down by any political nonsense, or thematic symbolism. It’s a hard-hitting shoot ’em up that never lets up until the credits role (rather abruptly, I might add). It follows all the basic revenge flick rules. The enemy thugs are numerous, faceless, and nothing but cannon-fodder. The set-pieces are public, colourful, and filled with innocents who act as nothing but obstacles to shoot around. And of course the FInal Boss can only be defeated by an extended fistfight. You could use “John Wick” to write the book on action formula.

John Wick

The film’s action is something to behold as well. I dare say I haven’t seen better fight choreography or gun-play in an American film in years. The gun fights, like John Wick himself, are sudden, brutal, and efficient. Every villain is dispatched by headshot even after being incapacitated or riddled with body shots. Keanu excels here, and looks comfortable as always in the role of the unkillable one-man-army. You’re not watching a reckless man driven by rage. You’re watching an artist, proficient in is craft, an unstoppable force unleashing years of discipline and training on his unsuspecting foes. Adding to the beautiful action, the film itself just looks great. Fantastic, fitting cinematography that compliments the action wonderfully. You don’t get action this pretty in a Stallone or Schwarzenegger flick.

“You can step aside, or you die screaming beside him.”

The most surprising aspect of the film is the strange bit of world-building involved. Early on we’re introduced to The Continental Hotel, owned by Ian McShane and hosted by Lance Reddick (together with Willem Dafoe as a guest, creating a Triumvirate Of Cool). This ominous building acts as temporary housing to the most dangerous killers in the world, as well as a sanctuary for them when not doing business. I would honestly be thrilled to see a spin-off series centering on this intriguing place and its history.

John Wick

The cast gets the job done with no one standing out, and no one falling flat. Keanu is far too likable to criticize in the role that obviously calls for his brand of detached deadpan. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy of “Game of Thrones”) gives a nice turn as a young, impetuous villain with daddy issues (hmm, that’s a stretch). Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, and John Leguizamo round out the supporting cast with brief turns as other underworld figures, and lend the film some extra credibility.

“You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may find something reaching out to pull you back in.”

Overall, “John Wick” is a breath of fresh air for the action genre. It’s a tight, well-made revenge film with a lot more going for it than you’d expect from the trailer. In the same vein as “Dredd,” I’m hoping to see more from this film begging to become a franchise, Not to mention it’s a welcome return for Keanu Reeves. Let’s hope more filmmakers are taking notes, and maybe we can expect a nice resurgence of the non-Bay action genre.

My Rating: 8/10

Theatrical poster for John Wick

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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